Food Writing, From my Perspective…

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

The Oh-So Amazing Avocado

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Photo Credits: Kristen Mejia

Photo Credits: Kristen Mejia

As I walk into the market I always look for something I crave. Ever since I could remember, my favorite thing my mother always gave me was an avocado. I graze around the store and see all the different healthy snacks I could happily munch on. I see the vegetables I love: carrots, broccoli, and cucumbers. Then the fruits I adore: mangoes, pineapple, and raspberries. But then I turn around and see this gigantic mound of avocadoes. And I think to myself, are they finally in season? My heart jumped for joy. Throughout the year good, ripe avocados are hard to come across, let alone they are even harder to just find one to eat.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table watching my mom carefully peel off that little oval shaped sticker, which I never knew what it was for. She would then wash it by rinsing off the skin and rubbing it with her hands to make sure she had gotten most of the dirt and remaining germs off. She then would take out a knife and slice off the top of the avocado where the stem once grew out of connecting it to the tree. Following that, she would take the avocado and cut it vertically, but since it cannot be cut through all the way due to the seed, she would cut all around it to make a perfect half. With a half in each of her hands she would slowly twist apart the two pieces and would reveal this enormous, almost perfect round, brown seed. Slimy to the touch the seed would not be easy to take out by hand. What she used to do was stab the knife in the middle of the seed and twist it out of the light green firm but soft meat that once held it in. She then would cut a lime in half and squeeze just a little bit of juice across the surface of the vulnerable avocado. She put it on a plate and gave me a spoon and the saltshaker so I could enjoy this delicious and simple food.

Photo Credits: Kristen Mejia

Photo Credits: Kristen Mejia

As you can tell, avocados are one of my favorite healthy snacks I love to eat. What do you think? Do you think avocados are a vegetable or a fruit? As I grew up eating them and enjoying them, I always thought of them as a vegetable, I never would of thought of them as a fruit. When you think of fruit, you think of something sweet and juicy such as watermelon. But when you cut into an avocado, there is no excess juice that squirts out, nor is there a sweet flavor to this wonderful green food. But with some light research I came to find that avocado is indeed a fruit. Since it grows on a tree and that it also carries a seed, it is technically and biologically a fruit. Although, most people including myself, tend to think of it more as a vegetable because of the way we use it in the kitchen. Most of the time we use it in savory dishes and salads. I created a one-question survey asking people whether they thought avocados were a vegetable or a fruit. I asked 80 people total, surprisingly, 67 of those people thought avocados were a fruit, while 7 others thought it was a vegetable, and the other 6 didn’t know.

To me, the history of the avocado is the most interesting part. The avocado originated in Central America, where it was cultivated nearly 7,000 years ago. The English word “avocado” is derived from the Aztec ahuacatl, it was said that the Aztecs used the avocado as a sex stimulant. With ahuacatl meaning testicle because of it’s shape. The legend says, for the Aztecs, avocado was, “the fruit of the kings” and eaten as a luxurious aphrodisiac. The Aztecs also believed that avocado was the fertility fruit and so, Aztec families would not allow their virgin daughters outside of the house during harvesting season. The Mayans too reserved avocados for royal tables of luxury. It was said that a Mayan princess ate the first avocado and believed it to have mystical, magical powers corresponding with the Aztec view of avocados having aphrodisiac qualities. This sexual stigma about avocados carried through the 19th century when growers wanted to cultivate avocados commercially, they first had to launch a widespread campaign to try and change the public’s view of avocados. Up until this point, avocados where neither purchased nor eaten by anyone wishing to uphold a virtuous or chaste appearance.

The avocado tree is a member of the laurel family, there are 3 original species: the Mexican type (Aztecs: ahuacatl), the Guatemalan type, and the West Indian type. As the avocado tree spread across Subtropical America, it has formed many names for itself. In Jamaica they call it the alligator pear, because of its alligator like skin and its similar to the shape to a pear. The Dutch call it avocaat, in Spain the call it abogado, and in France they call it avocatier. With all these different ways to say it, we know it best by avocado. In 1526, Fernandez de Enciso, a Spanish conquistador and cosmographer, wrote the first published record that describes the avocado that grew commonly near Santa Marta, Colombia. In a journal entry he described the avocado with great detail, “In the center of the fruit is a seed like a peeled chestnut. And between this and the rind is the part which is eaten, which is abundant, and is a paste similar to butter and of very good taste.” Even back then, people loved what the avocados provided for them, and it was great taste and happiness. Was it until 1871, Judge R.B. Ord of Santa Barbara planted the first successful introduction of avocado trees from Mexico, in California. Even then avocados did not become a commercial crop until the early 1900’s, when the 1950’s came around they finally became popular.

Fortunately, avocados are known for their good nutritional value. Avocados, due to their mono and polyunsaturated fat content, are a great substitution for foods rich in saturated fat. Avocados also contribute nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that can contribute to the nutrient quality of your diet. If you didn’t know, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause in death in the United States, but a healthy diet and exercise plan may help reduce your risk of developing the life threatening disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) dietary guidelines recommend a diet that has at least five servings of fruits and vegetables that contain up to 30% of calories from fats and that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat and sodium while being rich in potassium. Avocados can help you meet the AHA dietary guidelines because they have both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and they contain potassium.

As avocado farms are harder to find here around Orange County, I was lucky enough to catch the avocado opening week on Facebook, hosted by the California Avocado Commission. During the week they had open chats with different avocado experts. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Chuck Brandy, a California avocado grower for over 35 years. He is a partner in 30 acres of avocados, and is a successful avocado division manager at McMillan Farm Management. As I was waiting for a live chat with Chuck, I was thinking of the questions I wanted to ask him. Talking to a successful avocado grower made me nervous but I knew I wanted to know what the struggles were of growing avocados, but I also wanted to know what the most important thing was in growing these precious fruits. He stated, “The most important thing in growing avocados is proper irrigation and irrigation management. The greatest obstacle in southern California is the availability and cost of water. Weather is always a challenge too, we are facing different types of impacts at different times of the year – from roughly mid-Oct through mid-Feb Santa Ana winds are a huge concern for us. From Nov 30 through Feb 30 cold temps are a huge concern to us too. Heat spells are not as big of a concern if we have advanced knowledge of when a hot spell is likely to arrive or how hot it might get and we have an opportunity to pre-irrigate going into a heat spell.” I also figured out that I wanted to know if there was a difference in growing the different variety of avocados. Were the different kinds of avocados that different from each other to the point where they grew differently and at various schedules? He said, “From an irrigation and fertilization standpoint there is minimal difference. The growing time will vary by just a few months of actual tree life, the actual tree life of the fruit. For example, the Hass avocado in this area reaches maturity in mid-late January and will hang on the tree until mid-August. While the Lamb hass-hybrid matures in mid-summer and will hang on the tree until early October.” As much as I wanted to know about the hard work it takes to grow an avocado, I also wanted to know what his favorite part about being a California avocado grower. I wanted to know what it was like to be able to be in control of growing all those avocados for the people that loved them as much as he did. He quickly responded with, “It’s an opportunity to be outdoors, 360 days a year haha – it’s an extremely healthy lifestyle. I spend hours a day walking in the foothills of northern San Diego county, and Southern Riverside county, amongst green trees, with beautiful views and lots of fresh air every single day. In addition to the lifestyle, it’s a huge feeling of satisfaction that we’re producing a product that is so delicious.” I didn’t know what I expected out of this chat, but I was pleased with the responses I received. He was very informative and I could tell he loved talking about what he does best. He definitely knew his stuff; of course I would never expect less from an expert avocado grower. I knew that he was very passionate in what he does, and I was glad that he shared his knowledge with me. Now I know that there are some very technical details in growing avocados. I never would have guessed that irrigation and water supply would be a problem in growing avocados, let alone I wouldn’t have expected him to say that the cost of water is a problem. It makes me realize that there is way more care and detailing in growing an avocado tree, or thousands of avocado trees. I have come to appreciate this wonderful fruit even more, and now I realize why they are not the cheapest things in the produce section at the grocery store.

As a lover of avocados, I can only wish in my wildest dreams to have a flourishing tree in my own backyard. But, after a little research I realized that it really isn’t that hard to plant your own tree. Although there are a number of steps you must do. You can’t just plant the seed in the ground and water it every once in a while. With these complex steps you will be on your way to growing your very own avocado tree.

HOW TO: Grow an Avocado Tree from an Avocado Pit

Step 1: Remove & clean pit

Step 2: Locate which end is ‘up’ and which is ‘down’

Step 3: Pierce with four toothpicks

Step 4: Place avocado seed half submerged in a glass of water

Step 5: Wait for your avocado seed to sprout

Step 6: Pot in soil when tree is about 6” tall

Step 7: Water and watch it grow

Step 8: Pinch out top leaves to encourage bushiness

Step 9: Troubleshooting bugs

Step 10: Wintering

Although you follow these steps, growing your own tree is harder in particular because sometimes the avocado plants will begin growing fruit after they’re 3 or 4 years old, and others take 15+ years to grow fruit. And, unfortunately, some homegrown avocado plants never grow fruit. If your plant does grow fruit, don’t expect it to be anything like the avocado that you got your seed from. Commercial avocados are grown from grafted branches to control the outcome of the fruit.

As avocados have brought happiness and good nutrition to people throughout the years, I am glad I choose to research this wonderful fruit. I have come to appreciate avocados so much more, now every time I cut open a ripe avocado I know it has gone through a long process of growing. I no longer will complain about how expensive they are, but I will savor every piece I come across, remembering how they travelled through history to get to where they are today.

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One thought on “The Oh-So Amazing Avocado

  1. This is a great blog post! I like how you added how to grow your own avocados at the end.

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